Sunday, July 8, 2012

Recommended Reading: The Radio Drama Handbook

One thing aspiring audio theater producers will discover very quickly is how few instructional resources are available to them. Visit any library or bookstore and you'll find dozens of books on filmmaking, music production, painting, and other methods of creating art. But the withering of audio as a storytelling medium (in the U.S., at least) also resulted in a withering of writing about audio.

Which is not to say there's absolutely nothing out there, of course. Back when Chatterbox was in its planning stages I got an immense amount of help from several online resources, as well as a couple of excellent books. (I'm planning to collect a list of these resources for a future blog entry.) But if you're as hungry for information and ideas as I was, your reading list can look depressingly small.

Happily, up-and-coming audio dramatists now have another essential resource in Richard J. Hand and Mary Traynor's The Radio Drama Handbook. Released in 2011, this up-to-date, eminently readable how-to book is a perfect jumping-off point for anyone interested in creating their own work of audio theater. It's also packed with enough theory, recommendations, and practical considerations to interest more serious listeners and fans.

The Radio Drama Handbook opens with a concise but fascinating history of radio itself, as well as the storytelling form that evolved to take advantage of the new medium. From there, the authors move through radio drama theory (including considerations of how people listen, the tools available to radio dramatists, and more) and contemporary production companies (including Chatterbox) before taking a nuts-and-bolts look at how to create radio drama, from writing all the way through recording.

I've been actively creating radio drama since 2007, so a good portion of the material here was familiar to me. Another good portion was not, of course, and I came away from the book feeling like I'd learned a great deal. But even the familiar stuff was a pleasure to read. As someone who learned largely by jumping in and figuring things out as I went, I particularly appreciated the structure of the material. Not only did it confirm for me that Chatterbox's methods and philosophies are generally solid (whew), the book helped me to experience some of the information I've picked up randomly, over a five-year span, in an organized, contextualized manner. Plus it's just fun to read about stuff you enjoy.

By far, one of my favorite things about the book was the way it filled out my listening list. Like Leonard Maltin's The Great American Broadcast, The Radio Drama Handbook leaves you eager to dig into all the great shows you've just read about. Authors Hand and Traynor are extremely well-versed in contemporary audio productions, and the list of shows they consider spans the BBC and other professional companies as well as a wide range of independent producers. More in-depth considerations are presented as chapter-long "case studies" (such as a thoughtful look at We're Alive, a show whose praises I've sung in this very space). But throughout, the book is packed with intriguing descriptons of pieces that are now at the top of my listening list. What audio producer or fan wouldn't be interested to hear A Pot Calling the Kettle Black, a dialogue-free production in which "the listener is transported away from the humdrum kitchen to a spectacular parallel universe, one which is created in the imagination, a universe unique to each listener"?

As I mentioned, the authors were kind enough to include Chatterbox in their look at contemporary audio theater production companies. Professor Hand interviewed Kyle, Marques, and me about our process, our methods, and our philosophies. So am I recommending this book a simply because we're in it? Not in the least. While I admit that it's fun to be reading along and suddenly encounter your own name, the book stands on its merits as an excellent overview—and celebration—of audio storytelling.

You can order The Radio Drama Handbook directly from the publisher or from Amazon, among other retailers. It's worth the relatively high price tag. If you're serious about radio drama / audio theater -- whether as a producer, performer, or listener -- this one should absolutely be on your shelf.

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